Ross Stripling is an average starting pitcher, and that’s OK

Ross Stripling is now best-known for firing 7 1/3 innings of no-hit ball in his MLB debut last month. That’s understandable. But aside from a couple of “meh” starts, Stripling has been pretty average, which is much more than the Dodgers could have hoped for.

Average has a negative connotation on the whole, but when it comes to a starting pitcher in baseball, that’s an 8-figure player in free agency. There’s nothing negative about that.

Stripling came into the season having never pitched above Double-A, coming off Tommy John surgery two years ago and only getting to Los Angeles this early because of an inordinate number of injuries in the rotation ahead of him. He has rewarded the Dodgers with a 2.88 fielding independent pitching in his 33 innings. If that seems really good, it’s because it is. In fact, it’s the 20th-best number of any starter in baseball (minimum 30 IP). Here’s a quick refresher on what exactly FIP is.

“FIP is a measurement of a pitcher’s performance that strips out the role of defense, luck, and sequencing, making it a more stable indicator of how a pitcher actually performed over a given period of time than a runs allowed based statistic that would be highly dependent on the quality of defense played behind him, for example.”

Stripling’s low FIP puts him in good company. Here are the next 10 pitchers who trail him in FIP:

Not bad company, I’d say. And he’s only 0.08 points behind the best pitcher in baseball (or something) Jake Arrieta. Now, it’d be foolish just to look at one statistic and make a definitive statement about a pitcher, so, let’s dive a little deeper.

While his command/control hasn’t been top-notch, he still has a sub-9 percent walk rate to go along with his 20.4 percent strikeout rate. He’s also getting a solid number of ground balls (46.8 percent), while limiting the number of home runs he’s allowing (3.7 HR/FB%) — in fact, the only home run he has allowed came off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton, because of course it did.

Stripling is doing this all with an average exit velocity against of 89.2 MPH — right around MLB average. His batting average on balls in play (.271) has been better than MLB average (around .300), and he also has a .216 batting average against (30th in MLB). Batters are contacting his pitches 80.2 percent of the time, which is MLB-average.

Stripling has never been known as a strikeout pitcher, and his 8.6 percent swinging strike rate (MLB average is 9.5) further proves that point. But he’s still striking out enough hitters to be a viable rotation option.

FanGraphs rates his fastball as his worst pitch at -1.0 runs above average. His off-speed stuff has been better, with his curveball scoring 1.3 and his slider 1.5. Perhaps most surprisingly, his changeup checks in at 2.9 runs above average.

The numbers bear out. Stripling has allowed just two hits in 17 at-bats (in plate appearances ending in a changeup) against his changeup. He doesn’t throw the changeup nearly as frequently as he does his breaking pitches, but if the results are there, perhaps he’ll throw more of them going forward. He also risks having the pitch exposed, but it’d be nice to see if it’s going to be a legitimate pitch going forward against (mostly) left-handed hitters.

Seeing as Stripling was about 14th on the starting pitcher depth chart heading into the season, he has done quite well considering the situation. And he’s showing he might be more than just roster fodder going forward. There are certainly some things he’ll need to work on (command/control, going deeper into games), but Stripling’s averageness has been about the best-case scenario the Dodgers could have expected to begin this season.

Stripling pitches tonight against the Cardinals and his former college teammate Michael Wacha.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.